The Wonders of Oz

Outside Sydney: The Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains National Park
Govetts Leap Waterfall and the green expanse of Blue Mountains National Park (courtesy, Blue Mountain Tourism)

When you’ve had your fill of the city, for a modest AUS$11.40 you can buy a one-way train ticket that will deliver you unto one of Australia’s best-kept secrets: the Blue Mountains. This World Heritage site is a mere two-hour train ride from Sydney, but it’s a thousand miles away from anything urban. A series of charming towns are strung like pearls along the ridgeline of the Great Dividing Range within Blue Mountains National Park, offering a variety of chill home bases for daylong and multi-day hikes (or “bushwalking” in Aussie-speak), rock climbing and abseiling off the sheer sandstone cliffs, canyoning in the vast maze of slot canyons, mountain biking on an elaborate series of fire roads, and loads more.

The town of Katoomba is the best place for budget travelers to hop off the train. The local hostel, Blue Mountains YHA ( should be the model for all inexpensive accommodations—carpet floors, lobby fireplaces, a dining room, and self-catering kitchens—and with doubles starting at AUS$20, it’s a steal. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the historic Hotel Hydro Majestic (, a stately building in operation since the late 1920s sitting on an austere ridgeline in the town of Medlow Baths, just five minutes from Katoomba. The region also has a suite of lodges and eco-sensitive accommodations, one of the best being Jemby-Rinjah Eco Lodge in neighboring Blackheath (, a series of cabins with wood-stove heaters, surrounded by a variety of plant and animal life (don’t miss the daily bird feeding when fleets of colorful parrots flock each a.m.). Keep in mind, mid-week rates are cheaper.

Getting out into the wilderness in the Blue Mountains is literally as easy as stepping out your door—especially if you stay somewhere like Jemby-Rinjah. Bushwalking, for the day or for a full week, can easily be helmed with a good map and a solid sense of direction, or you can take a guided walk with either Tread Lightly (, an eco-certified outfitter that that leads bushwalks as well as astronomy, four-wheel-drive, and night tours; or Blue Mountain Walkabout (, an Aborigine-owned outfit that offers eight-hour outings—four hours of walking and four hours freshwater swimming, ancient art, native food tasting, and a variety of other cultural activities. Katoomba also houses a number of adventure-travel outfitters. High ‘n’ Wild ( caters to the backpacking set, offering a variety of courses, from 20- to 125-meter abseil trips, rock climbing, canyoning outings, and guided mountain biking. River Deep Mountain High ( offers guided bushwalking, abseiling and rock climbing, four-wheel-drive tours, mountain biking, and photo safaris in a variety of half-, full-, and multi-day trips. If you’re dead-set on canyoning, keep in mind that’s more of a summertime activity; High ‘n’ Wild still runs winter canyoning, but options are limited.

The Blue Mountains can get cold during the winter. Snow had fallen a week before we arrived in mid-July, and temperatures at night can get close to freezing. But the days are typically warm enough for nothing more than a T-shirt and pants. If you go hiking, be sure to pack lots of water—and inform someone of your route; springs are few and far between, and sometimes aren’t running even if the map indicates that they’re there. That said, don’t make the mistake many travelers do: Stay in the Blue Mountains for at least one night. People on a day trip from Sydney miss the staggering mountain views as dusk swallows the day, the wide expanse of stars that carpet the sky, the quiet solace of the overlooks and trails during the morning, the amazing cuisine, the friendly people… Blue Mountains Tourism ( has a wealth of reliable information on hand, including detailed descriptions of a variety of bushwalking trails.

Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for

Published: 10 Aug 2004 | Last Updated: 6 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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